A Geography of God: Talking with Michael Lindvall

On Sunday, Nov. 12, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church welcomed our friend and neighbor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Lindvall, for a conversation with Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston. The conversation centered on Dr. Lindvall's 2007 book, A Geography of God: Exploring the Christian Journey, the selection for this year's congregational book-read. The two pastors also talked preaching, theolgoy and Dr. Lindvall's plans following his departure from Brick Presbyterian and his retirement after more than 40 years in ministry.

Some excerpts follow. Click here for the full replay.

On Theology and the Bible

The story is at least as true and usually truer than the conclusions or the abstractions we draw from it. This is to say that the Bible, which is 80% narrative, is truer than the theological conclusions we derive from it. Those theological, ethical, doctrinal conclusions we come to are really important—they summarize, organize and codify our belief. And sometimes we are tempted to think they are truer than the story itself. But the story is the truest part.

On Understanding God

Christian truth is profoundly myterious. And all of the things we say, the stories we tell, only scratch the surface of this vast mystery that is the Deity. To assert that any of those statements we make can captures the vastness of divine Truth just makes God too small. You can't put God in any box. So the theological reality is we say things about God that are true, but that are in tension with other things we say about God. So for instance, we say that God is just, that God cares profoundly about right and wrong. We also say that God is merciful, that God's very nature is grace, that it is in God's DNA to forgive. Now those two things are in tension with each other. The temptation, and you see this in a lot of theologies, is to overemphasize one and deemphasize the other so as to make things easier. Good theology invariably leaves some things just sitting there in some ongoing, dynamic and healthy tension. But this cuts against how the world wants its truth. It wants it simpler.

On Spiritual Practice

I was asked to contribute a book chapter recently on the topic of spiritual discipline. I titled it "Spiritual Ill-Discipline," and I began by confessing that I'm not good about getting up extra early in the morning and praying for half an hour. I'm not good at doing what some friends are wonderful at doing, which is setting aside a given time every day for prayer. So what I do is weave prayer into the corners of my life. I always sit down on Fridays to write a sermon and I pray. I pray in taxicabs. I pray in the subway for the people I see on the subway. I pray when I walk around town. I find myself praying quite a bit. But in terms of rigorous spiritual self-discipline, I'm an F.

On His Legacy

I hope [my parishioners at Brick] remember just plain old joy in ministry. It's been a joy for me, and I hope they remember me being joyful in their midst. Happy is easy; joy is big.

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